Opinion: Financial education key to Pasifika aspirations


Dr Pushpa Wood

By Dr Pushpa Wood

I recently evaluated the Tamaki Financial Literacy Programme for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. This small pilot scheme deserves a lot more attention than it’s likely to get because, at its heart, it’s about meeting the aspirations of an entire community.

One of the key concerns of Pasifika community leaders in South Auckland has been the low level of home ownership among its constituents. The high cost of Auckland housing has made it difficult for young families to own their own homes – and if the Reserve Bank introduces new lending restrictions, scraping together a deposit will become an even bigger hurdle. 

But Pasifika families also face additional disadvantages. 

It is a well-known fact that many in the Pacific community still have a long way to go in terms of literacy and numeracy levels. If you combine this with comparatively low income levels and additional family and community obligations, the dream of owning a home can seem impossibly far away.

The Tamaki pilot project aimed to see if a community-based, family-focused approach would encourage Pacific families to participate in money management sessions. It was an interesting and, at times, challenging project – as many community projects are. 

The outcomes were not always measurable in a traditional sense. You can't perform miracles in 12 weeks but what you can do is to provide a taste of success so people realise they do have the power to gradually take charge of their lives.

Better financial literacy is not a silver bullet but it provides an ability to critically review your income and expenditure and then make well-informed decisions. In reality, many people make impulse purchase decisions and are easily persuaded by commercials, promotions and other temptations.

Buying a home is a long-term commitment and financial literacy provides people with the base from which they can start to set themselves short, medium and long-term goals. Above all, it hands the power back to individuals and families so they can make decisions that will contribute to their overall wellbeing. 

The Tamaki project had a positive and very personal impact on the 37 Pacific families involved, largely because extended family members were encouraged to join up together. 

Any community-based, family-focused project needs to have flexibility as its cornerstone. Managing money will mean very different things to someone already in debt versus someone thinking about taking on debt. It is this level of contextualisation that is needed if you are to achieve real engagement.

This was a pilot initiative and the findings from the pre- and post-programme survey were very encouraging. Here’s just one example of the comments received: “The course has changed my habits on how I spend my money. I have never saved money in my life. Now 15 weeks later, saved $1500 with my boys – all of us together.”

However, if these gains are to be maintained, a regular review and 'reconfirmation' of goals will be necessary. The long-term success of the programme will very much depend on the whole of the community and a whole-of-family approach. 

The next step will be to work closely with community and church leaders to train them to be the facilitators of money management programmes. They have great influence on their communities and congregations and the challenge will be to use this influence in a way that is beneficial for all involved.

The world of money is now quite complicated and our children have lost any ‘real’ contact with it. Eftpos and credit cards have replaced old-fashioned money-handling skills that taught past generations about not spending more than they had saved.

It is my hope that the support and resources will be secured for the Tamaki project to continue so other families can benefit – and that similar programmes can be rolled out in Pacific communities all over New Zealand. 

Increasing financial literacy levels is a crucial step in improving outcomes for Pacific peoples – and it is my view that every New Zealander has the right to an education that enables them to become literate, numerate and also financially literate. Starting early and creating good family role models really can make a world of difference.

Dr Pushpa Wood is the director of the Fin-Ed Centre, a Massey University and Westpac initiative. She was commissioned by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs to evaluate the Tamaki Financial Literacy Programme.

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